Slovakia toughens church registration rules to bar Islam
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BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia passed legislation on Wednesday to effectively block Islam from gaining official status as a religion in the near future in the latest sign of growing anti-Muslim sentiment across the European Union.
The former communist state has fiercely resisted EU efforts to cope with a big influx of mainly Muslim migrants into Europe since 2015, in part by opposing quotas to share out asylum seekers among EU members. Prime Minister Robert Fico's government has said Islam has no place in Slovakia.
Parliament adopted a bill sponsored by the Slovak National Party (SNS), junior member in Fico's coalition, that requires a religion to have at least 50,000 members, up from 20,000, to qualify for state subsidies and to run its own schools.
The change will make it much harder to register Islam, which has just 2,000 adherents in Slovakia according to the last census and no recognised mosques. The Islamic Foundation in Slovakia estimates the number at around 5,000.
The SNS said the new law was meant to prevent speculative registrations of churches, such as the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which has amassed followers worldwide.
"Islamisation starts with a kebab and it's already under way in Bratislava, let's realise what we can face in five to 10 years ... We must do everything we can so that no mosque is built in the future," SNS chairman Andrej Danko said earlier.
There was no immediate comment from the Islamic Foundation.
The law was approved by a two-thirds majority in parliament comprising both ruling and opposition parties. Lawmakers turned down a proposal by the opposition far-right People's Party-Our Slovakia to raise the religion membership bar to 250,000.
The small central European country's population is 5.4 million; 62 percent of it is declared Roman Catholic.
Danko had called for steps to prevent the registration of Islam and ban the wearing of burqas in public and the construction of mosques and minarets.
EU difficulties in absorbing over 1.36 million new migrants since the start of 2015, and a series of Islamist attacks, have stoked anti-Muslim feeling across the EU and boosted the appeal of far-right, anti-immigrant parties, prompting a rightward shift of governing centrists ahead of key elections next year.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; editing by Mark Heinrich)
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